At Wednesday’s meeting, the City Council gave a thumbs-down to a proposal to make St. Pauls Avenue one-way, while approving a controversial contract to study the city’s 911 call center and moving ahead on a “right-to-counsel” law.
After hearing arguments pro and con from a clearly divided neighborhood, the council voted to reject city transportation planners’ recommendation to make a one-block stretch of St. Pauls one-way westbound between Liberty and Tonnele avenues.
The vote to defeat the ordinance was 7-0, with Ward F representative Frank Gilmore abstaining and at-large member Daniel Rivera absent.
A companion ordinance that would have eliminated four parking spaces on the west side of Tonnele to allow for installation of a left turn lane off Tonnele onto Van Winkle Avenue was also rejected by the council.
Barkha Patel, city director of Infrastructure, said city planners were guided by the primary mission of making the area safer for people living in the area and, particularly, for children attending Public School 31 and the Golden Door charter school on opposite sides of St. Pauls and Kennedy Boulevard.
In recent years, residents said, there have been three major accidents involving pedestrians and a biker along, or just off, St. Pauls, including one adult fatality, which they attributed to reckless drivers.
Area residents were generally divided into two camps on the one-way issue: one group—primarily occupants and staff of high-rise developments at either end of St. Pauls—opposed the one-way strategy, warning that it would further snarl vehicular traffic and push it off onto side streets which lack the capacity to handle extra loads. They argued that the plan would do nothing to improve safety and that it would only further anger motorists. Plus, they said, it would make it tougher for emergency responders to get to their destination.
On the other hand, supporters of the proposed re-routing traffic plan—largely the owners and tenants of 1- and 2-family homes on St. Pauls or side streets—said those living in residential towers tend to be sheltered from the every-day perils of dodging cars and trucks using St. Pauls as an eastbound speedway to beat the light at St. Pauls and Tonnele, and then, at Kennedy Boulevard, with many drivers enroute to Rt. 139 and, ultimately, to the Holland Tunnel. Several residents complained about vibrations from onrushing trucks rattling their windows.
Stricter enforcement of traffic laws can go a long way to make conditions safer for all, insisted John Curran. “We need traffic cops writing tickets,” he added, especially during morning and late afternoon rush hours. “You just can’t get rid of cars—that’s not going to happen.”
For Sumit Galhotra, because (vehicular) traffic in Journal Square “is untenable,” and only likely to become more congested with new construction taking place, creating a one-way scenario could be a viable option to relieve now-congested streets, such as India Square along Newark Avenue. “We have to start somewhere,” he said.
And Carmen Orr said the city needs to widen its “Vision Zero” focus. “We’re not investing in sufficient public infrastructure–we should be doing more with public transportation like buses and trains,” Orr said. “Until then, drivers are just going to get more aggressive.”
Nonetheless, the council majority chose to keep St. Pauls two ways.
To do otherwise, Ward A member Denise Ridley said, would only mean “more traffic on neighboring streets and the problem is only going to come back to us.”
Ward B member Mira Prinz-Arey said she was unconvinced that the one-way proposal would solve anything.
Ward C member Richard Boggiano, a retired cop, said the city would do well to revive the old police motorcycle squad to stop speeders.
At large member Yousef Saleh said what’s needed is “enforcement, coupled with (transportation) infrastructure changes.”
Ward E member James Solomon said that while he was moved by some speakers’ “gut-wrenching testimony,” he felt the better course of action for now was to “continue to observe” traffic patterns on St. Pauls.
At large member Amy DeGise said that while she supports the one-way concept for St. Paul’s, the city has to consider its potential repercussions, in terms of what may happen when drivers are diverted to side streets.
“This one’s hard,” said Ward F member Frank Gilmore. “We’ve got a group of passionate neighbors,” he added, noting that the conditions they’re dealing with “are really none of you guys’ fault. Ultimately, he said, he found the city plan “a bad compromise, so I abstain.”
Last to speak was council president Joyce Watterman, who sprang the news that she’d received an email from the Department of Infrastructure earlier that day listing certain “traffic-calming measures” now in the offing for St. Pauls. “I’m willing to try that,” she said, before rerouting traffic on the block.
These include: repaving St. Pauls, between Tonnele and Kennedy Boulevard and restriping traffic lanes; re-installing curb extensions with asphalt or concrete and speed humps; and installing a concrete median island at St. Pauls and Skillman avenues which, Patel said, should help “add a level of security by reducing the crossing distance for pedestrians,” and especially for children walking to and from School 31.
Patel said the city is considering placement of “chicanes”—concrete slabs serving as “horizontal deflection pinch points”—whose purpose is to help slow traffic.
The plan is to do the work “no later than this summer,” Patel said, “now that we’ve identified (outside) funding sources” for the project. Patel didn’t say how much the work would cost.
In other business, the council, as expected, voted to refer to the city Planning Board for review an ordinance proposing to create a process to collect residential development fees to fund affordable housing and agreed to introduce an ordinance proposing a “Right-to-Counsel” program for city renters.
A crowd of tenant advocates passionately spoke in defense of the RTC initiative, with several calling for the council to eliminate income eligibility requirements for tenant participation in the program. Watterman assured the group that despite some reservations about how the program should be run, the council as a whole is “not against it.” The council simply wants to “do it in a proper manner,” she added.
The council agreed to impose a moratorium on reviewing and hearing applications for cannabis retail licenses but, after hearing pleas from several applicants, reduced the waiting period, from six months to a little more than one month from now. Watterman said she wanted to review applications already approved to see if there is true minority and/or veteran representation on the ownership boards.
By a 5-3 majority, the council voted to authorize award of a $213,085 contract to IXP Corp., of Princeton, to “complete initial workshops, technology assessment and gap analysis services” of the city’s 911 emergency dispatch center—an action recommended by city public safety director James Shea. Boggiano, Solomon and Gilmore opposed the move. “We’ve let the radio room fall apart,” Boggiano said. Hiring the firm “is a waste of money,” he added. Dispatchers have warned the move is a prelude to privatizing the unit. Watterman said: “Management (of the 911 setup) has failed. That’s why I’m voting ‘aye’.”
Construction Board of Appeals
The council voted 6-2, with Saleh and Solomon dissenting, to reject an ordinance that would have done away with the Jersey City Municipal Construction Board of Appeals and shifted its duties to the county.
In doing so, they accepted the advice of board member William Santomauro who urged the governing body to stay the course with the current board, which, by law, is comprised of five regular members and seven alternates. All but one currently are holdover appointees.
“We’re going to look at every single member to create a fully functioning board,” Santomauro assured the council.